Mexican Envoy's Remarks Cost Job


By Chris Kraul and Maggie Farley

Los Angeles Times
November 18, 2003

Mexico's ambassador to the United Nations, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, has lost his job after remarking last week that his nation remains the disrespected "backyard" of the United States. Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez told reporters Monday night that President Vicente Fox had decided to "separate" Aguilar Zinser from his duties effective Jan. 1.

Aguilar Zinser, speaking at a university in Mexico City last week, said Mexico was not treated by its northern neighbor as an equal, as members of the European Union are. As a result, he said, Mexico was forced to regularly "eat humble pie." The remarks provoked a rebuke from Fox during the Ibero-American summit in La Paz, Bolivia, over the weekend. U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who has in the past voiced his displeasure with Aguilar Zinser, also issued a strong denial that the U.S. holds a disrespectful attitude toward Mexico.

Derbez met with Aguilar Zinser on Monday morning for 1 1/2 hours. Aguilar Zinser made no comment as he left the Foreign Ministry a few hours before Derbez issued his terse statement. Rafael Fernandez de Castro, the Mexico City-based editor of the Spanish-language edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, said Aguilar Zinser had to be relieved of his post for "lack of discipline." "You can't have a Mexican ambassador acting this way. What happened last week was only the latest example. But it was the straw that broke the camel's back," Fernandez de Castro said.

Aguilar Zinser's departure will not be mourned by the Bush administration. He was a vocal proponent of the Mexican government's decision to oppose the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a position that reflected the will of the Mexican public but rankled U.S. diplomats nonetheless. "He was too public with Mexico's opposition. He could have said much of what he said in private," Fernandez de Castro said.

A former leftist academic, Aguilar Zinser was a key member of Fox's campaign team in 2000 and a close friend as well. Along with former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, he gave the Fox campaign an aura of legitimacy with the Mexican left. While Aguilar Zinser's comments reflect how many Mexicans view U.S. attitudes toward them, his outspoken ways and failure to observe protocol steadily cost him support. Lifelong friends, he and Castañeda had a falling out and rarely spoke during the last year of Castañeda's tenure as foreign minister. Castañeda resigned in January. According to local news reports, Aguilar Zinser often bypassed Castañeda, his boss, and took directions from Fox.

Aguilar Zinser's remarks last week came at an inopportune time for Derbez, who was attending a meeting in Washington of U.S. and Mexican Cabinet secretaries. Derbez and Powell appeared together before microphones to rebuff the U.N. ambassador's comments. "Never, never, in no way would we treat Mexico like our backyard, or a second-class nation," Powell told reporters. "The relationship is strong and is getting stronger all the time."

A senior U.S. official described Aguilar Zinser on Monday as an "unguided missile" and said the comments undercut Derbez's efforts to restart talks with U.S. officials on topics including a migration accord long sought by Mexico. On Monday, Derbez refused to answer questions about who might replace Aguilar Zinser.

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